NSCA Foundation

Heat guidance

Tuesday, 24 March, 2020

Heat guidance

Working in heat can be hazardous and can cause harm to workers in both indoor and outdoor work environments. Safe Work Australia has released guidance — including an infographic — to help employers ensure worker health and safety, and prevent heat-related illnesses. It is vital for employers to remember that different workers may react differently to heat conditions, and that heat can also affect employees working indoors. Employers should consider the conditions inside the workplace, what hazards may be present, and how best to resolve them. In the last 10 years from 2008–09 to 2017–18, there were 1360 workers compensation claims resulting from working in heat. Of those claims, 1235 were from working in the sun, 750 were cancer-related, 140 were related to heat stroke or heat stress, and 85 were from working in hot indoor conditions. Heat-related illnesses can include dehydration, heat rash, heat cramps, fainting, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

When assessing the risks associated with working in heat, employers should consider personal and environmental factors that could affect employees. Working outside or in a roof cavity, especially during the day and in summer, could increase the risk of employees contracting heat-related illnesses. Radiant temperatures are higher when working in the sun, on a concrete or metal roof, or near hot machinery. Working in confined or poorly ventilated spaces could also make employees feel hotter, particularly those that are not acclimatised or are returning to work after an absence, as they are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Susceptibility to heat-related illnesses could also be increased if employees have no access to air conditioning, shelter or cool drinking water, as this could cause dehydration. Workers with medical conditions, or those that are younger (below 25) or older (over 54) and less physically fit, are also more likely to contract heat-related illnesses.

Employers are reminded that sunburn can occur in 11 minutes and, whether serious or mild, could lead to permanent and irreversible skin damage. Employers must do everything reasonably practicable to reduce the risk of workers contracting heat-related illnesses, including rescheduling tasks to cooler parts of the year and waiting for hot conditions to pass. To mitigate the risks of working in heat, employers are encouraged to rotate work, work in shade, or use plant or other equipment to reduce manual labour. Providing fans and shaded or air-conditioned break areas could also reduce the risks of working in heat, alongside access to cool drinking water and frequent water breaks. Employers should also provide instruction and training to workers about safe work procedures in hot conditions and recognising the symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

A guide, together with an infographic, is available via SWA’s website. To manage the risks of working in heat, and ensure worker health and safety, SWA advises contacting the relevant regulator for guidelines specific to jurisdiction.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/juefraphoto

NSCA Foundation is a member based, non-profit organisation working together with members to improve workplace health and safety throughout Australia. For more information and membership details click here
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